Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese REPORT
3 Nov 2011
An exhibition of valuable rarely-seen artworks depicting St Mary of the Cross MacKillop opens tomorrow, Friday 4 November at North Sydney's Mary MacKillop Place Museum.
Entitled "Portraits of a Saint: A Selection of works from the Sisters of St Joseph Collection," the exhibition marks the first time in more than 16 years that the majority of these artworks have been put on public display.
The last time most of them were seen was back in 1995, when they comprised part of a tribute exhibition mounted by the Powerhouse Museum to celebrate Mary MacKillop's beatification by Pope John Paul II.
"It is a thrill to have them back on display and to be able to show these artworks not only to those who might of seen the previous exhibition, but to those who missed the opportunity the first time around," says Edwina Huntley, curator at Mary MacKillop Place Museum.
"It is it is also very exciting to be able to show this collection of large, impressive and moving artworks to a whole new generation," she says.
Edwina who curated the exhibition began planning and researching the different artworks held in the Congregation and Museum collections in February this year.
Among the artworks chosen are two by the late internationally-acclaimed Indigenous artists, Queenie McKenzie and Hector Chundaloo Jandanay. Both were prominent artists from the Warmun community, one of the main centres in East Kimberly for Aboriginal art, and their artworks are well-represented in overseas galleries and private collections.
"Mary MacKillop was well-known for her work with Indigenous people, but for the people of Warmun in WA the connection is even more recent and dates back to 1978 when the Sisters of Joseph arrived in the community to establish the Ngalangangpum school," Edwina explains.
"The painting by Queenie Mckenzie, who died in 1998, is a significant work and celebrates the cultural identity of the Gija people and Mary MacKillop's community spirit of service to the vulnerable and those in need," she says.
The painting by Hector Chundaloo Jandanay, who died five years ago, is equally powerful.
In addition to these two impressive and valuable artworks, is an outstanding triptych by Sally Robinson, the award-winning Sydney painter, printmaker and portraitist.
"Created in three large panels, the work is a very interesting piece with its direct artistic and historical links to early medieval religious paintings and iconography," Edwina says.
There are also historical references in the collage of photographic images from the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph Archives which form part of the centre panel using mixed media on paper.
Although created as a tribute to Mary MacKillop and well before the beatification, the triptych portrays Australia's first saint with a halo as a symbol of her holiness.
Two other works of great interest at the exhibition were created by Vaike Liibus Lakeman, the late great portrait painter who arrived in Australia as a child in 1929, after her family were forced to flee the newly-independent Estonia in wake of the Russian revolution. A frequent entrant in the annual Archibald Prize, she was also acclaimed for her entries in the Blake Prize for Religious Art and in 1969 won the covetted Portia Geach Prize for Portraiture, consolidating her reputation.
"Both her paintings in the exhibition use oils on canvas and are wonderful examples of her work. One is titled: Sister Mary MacKillop and the other, The Cross," says Edwina.
Prolific Australian artist, Bob Marchant is also represented with an oil on linen painting that depicts Australia's first saint among a sea of followers, showing her as both guide and inspiration.
"It has been very exciting to put the exhibition together and to choose paintings that depict the different facets of her character while highlighting the essence of her holiness and goodness," Edwina says. "Now just over 12 months since the canonisation seems a good time to display these rarely seen and significant works."
The artworks will remain on display until 29 February next year but with the heightened interest in St Mary of the Cross MacKillop from people of all ages, both Catholic and non Catholic, Edwina admits that already the Sisters of St Joseph are talking about extending the exhibition.
The exhibition of these significant and rarely seen artworks can be seen between 10 am and 4 pm daily at the Mary MacKillop Place Museum, North Sydney. For more details and information log on to www.marymackillopplace.org.au